First Signs of Magic, Hermione Granger
It was a rather upscale neighborhood, not too trendy, populated by the families of doctors, lawyers, and the vice presidents of companies that sprouted dozens such. Lawn sprinklers were a hazard to passing cars, while tricycles and garden hoses decorated manicured lawns. Here, everyone belonged to the same parenting groups, yoga classes; they saw each other outside football practice and ballet school, although they were more likely to remember the children's names - or even the name of the dog - than the attached obligatory parents.
It was a warm summer's day, one of those lazy sorts that envelope and make sleepy the last weeks of the school year. In the parking lot outside Madame Rousseau's Ballet studio, a little girl hopped up and down in a pint-sized pink tutu.
"Daddy, daddy, daddy!" The fluffy pom-pom of her hair bounced on her shoulders as she was hoisted into the air by Dr. Edward Granger. Her mother, the other Dr. Granger, was waiting in the car, looking a little worn out from traffic.
"Daddy! I learned how to do a plie - that's French! - and Emma's the best at them in class but she's two years older than the rest of us and Madame Rousseau says that it's better if we start learning when we're little-so-that's-okay and - "
"Whoa, whoa! Hermione, slow down!" Dr. Granger laughed as he carried her on his shoulder the few steps to the car. "I'm lost in the flood of explication! For starters: who is Emma?"
Dr. Granger was a big believer in not dumbing down his language for children. He and his wife had read all about how doing so could stunt a child's vocabulary. Not that there was much chance of that really, in this case. They had started building their Hermione's vocabulary with cue cards and educational games shortly after she'd said her first word. Though they still argued whether 'plbl' had meant 'pebble' or 'Plato.' They were very earnest parents, and wanted to do the best they could for their little girl.
"Well, for starters, Emma's older than us, and a lot taller and she's the best ballet dancer in the class - " Hermione began.
Her mother interrupted with a simpler version:
"She's over there," and motioned to a pretty brown-haired girl. Dr. Marilyn Granger had less patience for her daughter's 'babble' as she called it, than her husband. He, on the other hand was always amused and charmed by his daughter's adorable chatter.
" - and she's over there." Hermione ended, with a sheepish look at her father. Unfortunately, not only was he amused, he also encouraged it.
"Yes, but I know next to nothing about this fascinating creature. Tell me all about her," he said, swinging Hermione to the ground as he opened to car door for her. He gave his wife an impish twinkling wink. She sagged a bit onto the steering wheel and looked slightly more tired. Their energetic daughter bounded into the back, leaned up to her father's seat and talked a mile a minute about the marvelous Emma, while her father nodded at the appropriate intervals.
"Seat belt." Her mother reminded her, and Hermione dutifully buckled herself in, without pausing for breath in her description as the car pulled away.
"You don't say?" her father interjected at her infrequent pauses as the ballet school disappeared behind them. "Is that so?"
Dr. Marilyn Granger shook her head fondly, letting the flood of words wash over her. Sometimes her husband and daughter were far too much alike. He was smitten, and Dr. Granger basked in the glow of a father's adoration for his daughter. She smiled. Hermione was even picking up his speech patterns: 'isn't it fascinating?' and 'they were ever so kind.' It sounded oddly mature from an eight-year-old.
That night after dinner, Hermione helped her father clear the table, careful not to drop anything, while her mother put the dishes in the dishwasher. It was a satisfyingly ordinary evening, with her husband home. It was too bad Edward had to travel so much, Mrs. Granger thought, Hermione missed him so. But Orthodontia was a demanding field, and required conferences and classes to keep up to date on the latest. She was grateful to have stayed in family dentistry, where your experience still counted a year later.
Dishes done, Marilyn Granger shooed Hermione out of the kitchen. "Upstairs with you. Time to do your homework." Her husband clicked on the telly in the next room.
Predictably, her husband protested. "She can watch the telly with us. Her homework's not due till next week."
Hermione turned, though not too hopefully. She knew better.
"Tut, tut. Good habits start young," her mother looked reprovingly at her husband, "and so do the bad ones. You are the worst procrastinator, Edward."
"And you, my dear, are a slave-driver," he said lazily, leaning over to kiss her. "But I'm afraid I must concede to a higher authority."
"Daddy…" Hermione whined. "You're hardly ever home!"
"Go!" he said, chasing her up the stairs. She giggled hysterically and stopped at the top of the stairs, peeking over the banister. Then he plunked onto the couch and patted the spot next to him comfortably. "The quicker you're done, the sooner you'll be here."
"I'll do it the fast way!" Hermione brightened and scampered the rest of the way up the stairs.
"What's the 'fast' way?" Edward asked, puzzled. His wife shrugged. Hermione was a very bright girl, but she had been doing her homework in record time lately.
"Whatever it is, she'll be done in twenty minutes or less," Marilyn said, "and her work will still be top notch."
He raised his eyebrows. "Maybe they should move her ahead a class…"
"No," her mother said, firmly, "it's developmentally important Hermione be with kids her own age. We've been through this before."
"I thought you were going to let me wear the pants in this house every now and then," he smiled.
"Don't be ridiculous, Edward," Marilyn Granger laughed cheerfully as he dragged her onto the couch. "You knew exactly who you married."
Several minutes later, Hermione's mother went upstairs to check on her daughter's progress. Downstairs, Hermione's father heard his wife gasp.
"Hermione -- Edward… honey…" His wife didn't shout but Edward recognized the note of alarm in her voice.
Dr. Edward Granger took the stairs two at a time. He visualised the worst, most horrible accidents with a vividness only medical school could provide.
"Am I doing something wrong?" There was a frantic shrill note in Hermione's voice, but he was ever so grateful just to hear her. It couldn't be that bad then.
He arrived just in time to see it.
Two pens moved of their own accord across two sheets of paper, while Hermione was apparently writing on a third. Or had been. The third pen and paper were on the floor. In that moment, the other two pens fell over in unison, and lay innocently on her little desk. Dr. and Dr. Granger stared, open-mouthed.
They couldn't have imagined it. Could they? Already their eyes refused to believe those pens had moved in midair.
Marilyn recovered quickly, speaking very carefully. "Everything is going to be all right, sweetie."
"Am I not supposed to do that?" Hermione asked, her voice rising in panic.
If Hermione hadn't done that, if it hadn't happened, then why was she talking about it? Both the doctors were grateful the other had seen it. Otherwise they would never have believed each other. Dr. Marilyn Granger wasn't sure she believed herself, even now.
"So. You did that," her father said quietly.
Hermione glanced from her mother to her father. "It's the fastest way. To write all three at once. They're just multiple choice. It's easy. I'm not going to mess up," she said anxiously.
Dr. Marilyn Granger put a hand to her face. This was certainly never covered in the parenting books. Except maybe: 'In an emergency, reassure your child.'
"You haven't done anything wrong, Hermione," she said calmly.
Somehow her toneless voice had the exact opposite effect on her daughter. Or perhaps she had said it one too many times when things were very, very wrong. Damn those books anyway. They were never useful when you really needed them.
They stared at those pens. Then each other.
As a family, they made the decision to panic.
Hermione had her hand over her mouth as Dr. Edward Granger grabbed a handful of coats, forgetful it was summer; Dr. Marilyn Granger grabbed the car keys and ran with her daughter in tow out the front door. Edward passed a man in a florid purple suit coming up their walk, and skipped around him as the gentleman said - "Hey! Are you -?" - skidding on the slick lawn as he did so.
Normally, Dr. Edward Granger would have paused to consider such a visitor, or at least said hello, but he was far too busy stuffing a wide-eyed Hermione into the back seat of their car. He had barely closed the door when they pealed out of the driveway in a puff of burning blue smoke. The noise turned heads up and down the street in their peaceful neighborhood, quite unused to the quiet intellectual Doctors acting irrationally. Dr. and Dr. Granger cursed, drove like demons and dodged traffic as they took Hermione to the nearest hospital.
It was relief to finally pull into the emergency room entrance, surrounded by the usual urgent bustle of the hospital. Taking a deep breath, Dr. Edward Granger and little Hermione got out at the curb, and he stared at the signs while his wife illegally parked in a handicap space.
There was a large sign that read "Welcome to Saint Mary's."
But beyond that, the signage was rather peculiar. At first glance, nothing seemed amiss in the simple, prim block letters and comforting doctorly terms. The sign read:
Pen Emergency Room
Now. Although they were both dentists, they were well acquainted with the medical profession and knew full well there was not usually a 'Pen Emergency Room.' Despite the fact that they did have, at the moment, a Pen Emergency.
Peculiar. The Doctors' Granger glanced at each other. They looked at the sign again, and Dr. Edward Granger realised they hadn't read far enough. Though he didn't recall there being anything else on the sign before. But that was impossible, of course. The sign continued:
Pen Emergency Room
Marble Emergency Room
Bottlecap Emergency Room
Well. Children did get into all sorts of scrapes, now didn't they? No doubt this Hospital simply had an unusually large Pediatrics department. Which was, in and of itself, immensely reassuring. They noticed a little arrow beside 'Pen Emergency Room' that directed them down a long hallway.
Still nonplused, they obediently followed the signs.
Another sign at the end of the hallway directed them to a still narrower passage. A third directed them to the left; another to the right. As they walked, they noticed there were fewer and fewer people about; fewer and fewer of those reassuring badges clipped to pockets on ugly green smocks. The lighting was rather more dim in this part of the hospital, as smooth walls gave way to mortared stone, painted in that same recognisable hospital color of course.
Finally, the signs ended at a janitor closet.
The closet was labeled, in rather small letters, 'Pen Emergency Room.' It looked as though the tacky little sign had just been put up that day.
"I believe we've come the wrong way." Dr. Edward Granger stated the obvious.
His wife and daughter looked about themselves in helpless confusion; they couldn't spot the signs that had led them here in the first place. Dr. Edward Granger hoped to spy someone who could give them directions back to the regular Emergency Room. They were clearly lost. Which was not a good thing when you had a Pen Emergency. He imagined for a moment that the signs had disappeared. Of course, that was impossible.
Fortunately, this part of the hospital wasn't entirely deserted. A young orderly rounded the corner, pushing an empty but rather squeaky gurney towards them. He wore a brightly-coloured smock and headphones over his ears. He sang tunelessly, too loudly, unable to hear himself over his music. "Woo-woo! Billy Jeeeean… Not. My. Luv -ah… She's just a giiii-iirl…!"
As he drew closer, Dr. Edward Granger saw the familiar hospital badge bouncing on the pocket of his odd rainbow-coloured smock and breathed a sigh of relief. He was just about to ask the young man directions, when the gurney squeaked to a stop of its own accord and the man pulled off the headphones.
"You looking for the Pen Emergency Room?" he asked brusquely.
"Er… yes." Dr. Granger felt a little silly all of the sudden. Whoever heard of a 'Pen Emergency Room'? Out loud it sounded patently ridiculous.
"Through that door," the young man nodded curtly at the closet and replaced his headphones. Despite the ID badge pinned to his rainbow smock, the young man seemed a bit odd somehow. Though he did have the usual hurried indifference of a hospital employee.
"Right. Thank you," Dr. Granger said politely, staring after the young man who rudely ignored his gratitude just like any normal hospital employee.
But his wife and daughter were already pushing their way through the door behind him. The bustling sounds that came from there now were certainly not those of a janitor closet. Edward Granger turned to follow, but looked over his shoulder at the fast disappearing orderly.
Fangs, Dr. Granger realised. The young man with the headphones had had fangs. And it wasn't Hallowe'en.
They were greeted with a large, friendly sign that said 'Welcome to St. Mungo's.' But the first thing Dr. Edward Granger noticed as he bumped into wife was a man in flames, quietly reading a newspaper. He looked bored as turned the page.
A doctor rushed by them, "What have you got for me, Antigone?"
"Unicorn goring, operating room 12."
"Damn, when will those kids learn? Just 'cause they're pretty doesn't mean they're not dangerous!" he snapped on gloves and hurried through some swinging doors.
"Mum!" Hermione said in a stage whisper, "that man has a tentacle for a hand!"
"Sh," said Dr. Marilyn Granger, "it's not polite to stare, dear." Being calm in a crisis was something she had always been good at, and she saw no reason to stop now.
The room looked quite ordinary. It was white, with white floors, white walls, and a white ceiling. It was filled with a number of uncomfortable-looking white plastic chairs that didn't seem to suit the strange array of patients. The man with the bull's head and cloven hooves in the leather smock looked far too large for his chair, for one, but he bore it patiently. In the far corner an elderly gentleman wearing flowing robes imprinted with stars seemed to have brought his own chair, though how he managed to drag in a chaise lounge…
"Granger. Hermione," An enormous woman at the front desk called. She had a staggeringly high beehive hairdo. Hesitantly the Grangers approached. "Says here Pen Emergency, correct?"
"Er… yes." Dr. Granger had the feeling their story wasn't going to be so extraordinary after all.
"You're Muggles, correct?"
"Beg your pardon?"
"You'll have to fill out a few forms first," she said brusquely.
The woman dropped a stack of papers about four inches high into Marilyn Granger's hands. It was oddly reassuring, those papers. St. Mungo's couldn't be too far different from any other hospital. His wife mutely took the forms and Hermione to one of the many uncomfortable-looking chairs in the waiting room, and pulled out her Cross pen. As Edward Granger hovered near the front desk, Marilyn suddenly squinted at the forms as if they were written in code.
"Um… Madam?" Dr. Granger asked in his most polite voice. "The orderly in the hall… he had, well, fangs…"
"We're an Equal Opportunity Employer here at St. Mungo's, sir, regardless of race, sex, creed or breed. Besides, as I always say, who better than a vampire to look after the blood bank? Killer quality control they've got."
"Now, none of that racist stuff! That's not accepted around here. Mungo's is run by the government, it is, where the minorities - " here several other employees joined in -
" - are the majority!" A black woman weighing some kind of large gold coin behind the desk laughed.
"I've… no prejudice against , er… vampires," Dr. Granger felt obligated to say.
"Well, that puts you in the minority, that's for sure." The black lady laughed again.
A young woman with a mop - probably a candy striper - giggled - "Hey, you could work here then!" The hospital employees all laughed at their inside joke.
Dr. Granger wanted to say that he had a job, thank you, but felt the conversation had already gone quite beyond his control. His wife motioned for him to come over in any case. He sat between his wife and old woman dressed like a witch, peaked hat and all. The man with the tentacle was waving a stick at a drinking fountain, and holding Hermione up to take a sip.
She whispered, "Edward… some of these questions are truly bizarre. I can't make heads or tails of it. Look at this one:"
Question 29.a) Do you consider yourself to be:
1 - Pureblood
2 - Muggle
3 - Partial Born [Part Muggle, Part Pureblood]
4 - Other
Dr. Marilyn Granger was exasperated. "I'm tempted to say 'other' just to be on the safe side."
The old lady in the peaked hat leaned over conspirationally, "That's one's optional, just a 'survey' they say. But I'd check 'Pureblood' if I were you. I've never trusted the Ministry's motives on that question."
"Mum, their drinking fountains have hot chocolate!" Hermione skipped over and sat next to the old woman, looking up at her in awe. "Hi. Are you a real witch?"
Well. The woman did dress like one after all.
The helpful lady laughed. "No more than you are, my dear," she chortled, and then seemed to think this very funny.
At that moment, a woman in a rainbow smock, who was probably a nurse, poked her head around the corner. "Granger. Hermione. The doctor will see you now."
"I'm afraid we haven't quite finished filling out these forms…" Dr. Marilyn Granger began apologetically.
"That's quite all right. We just throw them in the trash anyway." The nurse winked. "Saves time filing. But don't tell anyone I told you."
That convinced Dr. Edward Granger St. Mungo's was a real hospital, despite its strangeness.
Dr. Marilyn Granger muttered, "I always suspected as much…"
It was good thing Dr. Edward Granger was feeling especially confident this was real hospital, because the doctor's office was anything but normal.
The shelves of the doctor's office were filled with beakers, vials, ancient-looking leather books, and a number of rather strange exotic plants. Some of which were moving. There appeared to be some sort of distillation process happening on the back wall.
It seemed St. Mungo's practiced 'alternative medicine.'
The doctor herself was an older woman with gray curly short hair and spectacles, seated behind a broad oak desk. She wore the obligatory colorful hospital smock, and appeared to be stirring some sort of soup on a tiny Bunsen burner.
She looked up and smiled. "Sorry. I always end up eating dinner at my desk these days. Late shift."
"Now. What can I do for you?" She picked up a stick, and several chairs moved closer. They couldn't see the mechanism for it, although Dr. Edward Granger assumed magnets in the floor. "The Nurse's station seems to have lost the paperwork again. Pen emergency, is that right?"
"Uh, yes. We…" Dr. Edward Granger felt very foolish all of the sudden. How does one explain something like this?
"Pens moving through the air, writing on their own?"
"Yes! Exactly! Hermione here, well, she was doing her homework - and these two pens -"
"Two pens? Say no more. Happens all the time." The doctor waved dismissively. She turned to Hermione. "Though you, my little lady, are quite the precocious one. How old are you?"
"Eight and three-quarters!" Hermione answered, swinging her feet.
The doctor seemed to be counting on her hands. "Give it two more years. She'll be fine. There's no harm in it. Maybe a little less pressure on the homework, perhaps?"
"What is going on?!"
"Well, I'll explain. Your daughter is a very talented little lady. In a couple of years, she will receive a letter from a school called Hogwarts that will help her make the most of her abilities. It's by invitation only, this school. We had to redirect you from St. Mary's. We can't have Muggles doctors and nurses and scientists experimenting on bright little girls, now can we?" She scrunched her nose at Hermione, who giggled.
"No, of course not. Well, we at St. Mungo's are the specialists in this sort of thing. So there won't be any experiments. It will all be fine in a couple of years."
"You mean, she'll grow out of it?"
"Well. She'll grow into it, rather." The doctor turned her attention to their daughter. "Now, Hermione. Your parents might forget things from this visit, so you'll have to remember, okay?"
The Grangers smiled at each other. It was an excellent technique to get a child to pay rapt attention.
"No more pens, little lady! You have to do your homework the slow way."
"I know, it seems so unfair now. But you need to not frighten your Mum and Dad. Can you remember that?"
Hermione nodded vigorously.
"All right then. It won't be long, not to worry. And I have a little secret for you."
Hermione leaned closer, eagerly. She liked secrets. The doctor leaned down to Hermione and spoke in a stage whisper.
"Your First Signs of Magic show what you're going to be best at later when you're doing all kinds of Magical tricks and Spells and stuff," the doctor said conspirationally. "So you'll always be especially good at Charming objects, and you'll always be good at doing lots of different things all at once. Now Charming object is pretty common, that happens all the time. But doing lots of things at once - that's a talent. Someday, you may even be able to make a whole orchestra play."
The Grangers beamed. This doctor had a wonderful bedside manner, and what an adorable fairy tale to entertain and their daughter! They had to admit she was, after all, a little stressed from the day.
"Now, Dr. Granger, and… you're also Dr. Granger, correct?"
"Yes." Dr. Edward nodded for both of them. They were really eager to learn from these strange 'specialists' as they called themselves, just what they thought was going on. Although he intended to seek a second opinion, of course. Naturopathic medicine was all well and good, but one shouldn't rely on it solely.
"I have just one word for you," the doctor picked up the stick she had used earlier with the chairs. "Obliviate!"
Moments later, Dr. and Dr. Granger were being ushered out of St. Mary's. The smiling doctor with gray curly hair was giving them some advice. And aspirin. What were they doing here?
"Your daughter is just a little stressed, that is all," the doctor was saying. "I recommend you put a little less pressure on her to finish her homework quickly, yes?"
The two doctors nodded, wondering vaguely how they got here. Then Dr. Marilyn Granger groaned. There was a ticket on her car for parking in the handicap zone.
The doctor gently took the ticket from her hands, "don't worry about that. We'll take care of it."
"Oh. Why, thank you!" Marilyn Granger said, bemused still.
The doctor nodded in satisfaction. "Now Hermione. You remember what I said?"
Hermione dug at the concrete with her toe, and answered reluctantly. "Yeeeeeeees."